GRIMES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa education officials released guidelines Thursday that will allow schools to reopen to normal activities as of July 1 without requirements that students and teachers undergo health checks, wear face coverings or observe social distancing in schools.
The plan is in line with Gov. Kim Reynolds’ moves to allow public gatherings again after she had imposed restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Reynolds had initially ordered schools across the state to close in March and extended her action in April for the remainder of the school year.
Jean Hessburg, a spokeswoman for the Iowa State Education Association, the state’s teacher’s union, said the plan doesn’t comply with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for public places.
“It is a gamble and obscene that the governor and the Department of Education are gambling on the health and and safety of our students, our staff and school employees,” Hessburg said. “This virus has demonstrated that it knows no bounds and students can bring the virus home to families and ravage a family.”
ISEA President Mike Beranek released a statement urging school districts to create their own guidelines mandating face coverings, physical distancing and other safety protocols. The union represents more than 50,000 teachers and other education professionals.
The Iowa Department of Education made no public announcement on the guidelines, and Gov. Kim Reynolds made no mention of it at a news conference she held earlier in the day.
Her spokesman did not immediately respond to messages but education department spokeswoman Heather Doe said the guidance was created with the Iowa Department of Public Health. She said local districts may require stricter measures based on local circumstances after consulting with a lawyer and local public health officials.
“The health and safety of students, families, administrators, teachers and school staff will continue to be our number one priority, and we will continue to rely on public health experts to inform all decisions made,” she said.
Reynolds announced Thursday that she was updating an earlier coronavirus related emergency proclamation that makes it clear that all school-related sports activities may resume.
Reynolds made the announcement on the day that Principal Park in Des Moines announced a staff member tested positive for the coronavirus and high school baseball games scheduled for the minor league ballpark would be cancelled.
Reynolds said sports events can proceed with social distancing, good hygiene and sanitizing equipment.
“These kids need the opportunity to find some normalcy in their lives and it is a balance. We cannot shut down forever,” she said.
Iowa had an additional 462 positive cases on Thursday for a total of 27,062 total positive cases and four additional deaths bringing the state total to 694.
Reynolds noted however that some trends including hospitalizations, deaths and nursing home outbreaks are declining.
The school opening guidance was posted on the department’s website on Thursday in preparation for beginning the school year, which for most schools occurs in mid- or late-August.
It calls for staff or students who are sick to remain home but doesn’t require temperature checks or any other health screen before entry to schools, saying it’s not a CDC recommendation “because one symptom is not necessarily indicative of communicable disease.”
“Requiring face coverings for all staff and students is not recommended,” the guidance said, noting that schools should allow staff and students to use personal face coverings if they choose. Students should be taught not to criticize the use or non-use of facial coverings, according to the guidance.
Schools should provide appropriate personal protective equipment and training for employees who have a medium- to high-risk of exposure or as determined by their job-related task, the advisory said.
“Schools may not be able to guarantee that physical distancing can be met in all school settings throughout the entire school day, during school activities, or with transportation,” the document said.
Schools are to post signs on how to stop the spread of illness and have routine cleaning practices of facilities, high touch surface areas, cafeterias, concession stands, health offices, and buses following CDC guidance and any state or federal sanitation regulations.